The Case Against Homework

Ben Berrafato, 11, is challenging - seriously challenging - one of this country's most enduring and widely held beliefs: The belief that kids need homework.
Even though he's just a fifth grader, 11-year-old Ben Berrafato is challenging - seriously challenging - one of this country's most enduring and widely held beliefs: The belief that kids need homework.

"Where has it been proven, in these many centuries of this work, that it has been good for anyone?" Ben said.

Ben's crusade against homework began with a simple assignment, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports. For English class at New Lane Elementary in Selden, N.Y., Ben had to write about something he was passionate about - and since Ben hates homework he wrote about that. And he did so quite creatively.

Part of his essay reads: "Homework is assigned to students like me without our permission. Thus, homework is slavery. Slavery was abolished with the passing of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So every school in America has been illegally run for the past 143 years."

On a whim, Ben sent a copy of his essay to the New York Daily News.

"And I got like this humongous section of the op-ed page," he said.

It then circulated on the Internet, Ben started doing talk shows, and a monster was born.

"School should stay at school," he said. "When it is brought home in a backpack, it causes problems."

For teachers and school administrators, Ben's whole argument borders on blasphemy. Certainly most would dismiss it as wishful propaganda - if not for the simple fact that the kid may be right.

"He's really onto something here," said Nancy Kalish, who co-authored a book called "The Case Against Homework."

"As he pointed out, there is almost zero connection, correlation between homework and any type of achievement in elementary school," Kalish said.

In researching his essay, Kalish says Ben really did his homework, so to speak, citing the very latest studies.

"Kids who do 60 to 90 minutes of homework in middle school and over two hours in high school actually do worse than average in standardized tests," his essay read.

How far is Ben going to take it?

"As far as I can," he said. "As far as possible."

Read more about Ben's quest on Couric & Co.
"I have a petition and I'm going to try and get a law abolishing homework," he said.

Ben plans to send the signatures to Congress.

He says just about everybody's been supportive. Except … his principal.

"You know, a famous historian once said, 'I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death you're right to say it,'" the principal said. "You know who that was? I believe it was Patrick Henry. I could be wrong. I learned that a long time ago in homework and I've forgotten it."

Ben says she just proved his point right there.

"If you're going to do homework then forget what it is, then why even do it?" Ben asked.

Of course, now he's probably got homework and detention.

"It's an interesting thought," the principal said.

Not that it would deter him anyway. To paraphrase what Patrick Henry actually said: Give me liberty from homework or give him … extra credit, at least.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.